Richie scowled behind the tinted face plate of his helmet as he negotiated his bike around a water-filled pothole, conveniently placed at the far end of a blind curve to trip up unwary motorcyclists. Lousy roads and lousy weather. Didn't have to go all the way to England for that. Could've stayed in Seacouver. He had been thinking this all morning, though he knew perfectly well it wasn't true. He couldn't have stayed in Seacouver, becuase Seacouver was MacLeod's home, and Mac had kicked him out. Mac had turned his back on him, and told him to leave in a voice so cold, just remembering it now gave Richie the shivers. Almost a month later, it still hurt. Not that he'd intended to spend eternity tied to Duncan MacLeod's figurative apron strings, but he had hoped for a friendlier parting. He hadn't spoken to MacLeod since he left the dojo the night of Mako's death, hadn't had any communication from him since three days before his departure, when he found an envelope full of money in his mailbox. A lot of money. Enough to keep him traveling for at least a year, if he kept to a budget. Richie had tried to think of the money as a good-will gesture, a sign of softening on Mac's part, but deep down inside he knew what it really was. Severance pay.
Another pothole snuck up on him out of nowhere, making him swerve onto the opposite side of the road and then back again, narrowly missing a collision with an oncoming tour bus. The bus driver honked the horn furiously as he barrelled past. Richie forced his attention back to the road, and resolved to save the self-pity for when he wasn't driving. It was just as well, for less than five minutes later there came a distinct popping sound, and the car in front of him -- a rusty yellow pickup truck with half a dozen wooden crates piled in the back -- skidded into a truly impressive spin, spraying water and gravel in all directions, and making two complete revolutions before finally going off the road.
Richie pulled over to the shoulder in a hurry. The truck had come to a stop about twenty feet from the road. Three of the crates lay scattered around it. The driver was slumped in his seat, motionless. Richie pulled off his helmet, hung it on the handlebar, and squelched through the mud toward the truck.
"Are you all right?" He called out as he approached.
The window on the driver's side rolled down with a squeak. "I think so," a faint voice replied.
The driver proved to be a man in his mid-sixties, with gray hair and a bristly gray beard. He unbuckled his seatbelt as Richie came near, and leaned his head out the window. "I think I have a puncture."
Richie looked down. "If that's Brit-speak for a flat tire, then yeah, you've got one. Do you have a jack and a spare?"
"In the back behind the crates." The older man got out of the car. He was shorter and stockier than Richie, with broad shoulders and big, callused hands. He wore jeans and a dark green sweater over a denim work shirt. A farmer, Richie decided, or a laborer of some kind.
The jack and spare were duly produced, and Richie changed the tire. The other man tried to insist on doing it himself, but he was obviously shaken by the skid, and backed down fairly easily.
"I hate to ask for more than what you're already done," he said when Richie finished, "but can you help me get these crates back into the truck? They're too heavy for one person to lift."
"No problemo!" Richie told him cheerfully. "This is your lucky day. I'm offering two good deeds for the price of one. So let's do it." He squatted next to the nearest crate.
A moment later he was regretting his words. Even with two them to lift it, the crate was barely moveable.
"Jesus!" Richie groaned, wondering if immortals got hernias. "What've you got in there, rocks?"
"Lead," the driver told him with a perfectly straight face. Richie stared at him.
"You're kidding, right?"
"Nope. I warned you they were heavy."
It took a long time, but they finally got all the crates stacked in their proper place again. By then, Richie's hair was damp with rain, and his sweatshirt was equally damp with sweat under his leather jacket. He leaned forward with his hands on his knees, and tried to catch his breath. The driver of the truck slumped against the door.
"Thank you," he shook Richie's hand with an impressively strong grip. "You've been helpful above and beyond the call of duty, Mr.--"
"I'm William Dorset. Is there anything I can do for you, to make up for the trouble I've put you to?"
"It was no trouble," Richie said politely. "But if you can point me to someplace where I can get a nice room and some decent food, I'll consider us quits."
"Follow me, then. I'm going to Lynstock, about ten minutes north of here. Nice little town, and not too full of tourists this time of year. You should be able to find a place to stay."
"Lead on, then." Richie headed back toward his bike.
Lynstock proved to be made up mostly of antique shops, pubs and bed-and-breakfasts. Richie got a room at a place imaginatively called The Lynstock Guesthouse. The adjacent building had a pub on the first floor, called The Blue Duck, though the picture on the sign looked more like a purple pigeon. Richie sat at a table in the corner, with his back to a wall and a clear view of the entrance, and ordered roast beef and a pint of beer. The food was like all English food he'd had so far -- bland and overcooked -- but after his earlier exertions on the road he was ready to eat shoe leather and like it. Besides, the beer was good. Richie was just about to order another one when the buzz of another Immortal hit him.
His first instinct was to jump to his feet, but he controlled it and looked around the pub instead. It was full of people, but no one was paying attention to him. Which meant the buzz had to be coming from outside. Richie swore under his breath. His sword was in his room at the guesthouse. He could make a dash for it. Or he could try to go out the back way. Or...
Before he could think of any more options, the buzz disappeared. Whoever the other Immortal was, he or she had withdrawn. That was just fine with Richie. He still had nightmares about killing Mako. He was in no hurry to repeat the experience. He waited in the pub a few more minutes, then went back to his room. He detected no Immortal presence for the rest of the evening. But he slept with the sword handy, just in case.
The last shop on the main street was an antiquarian book dealer, and Richie's eye was caught by an eighteenth-century English translation of a sixteenth-century Italian treatise on swordsmanship. The binding was modern, but Richie didn't mind -- it would only serve to knock down the price. It took nearly an hour of haggling, but he left the shop with the book in his jacket pocket. Since it was close to lunchtime by then, he got a couple of sandwiches at a nearby diner, took them out to the small park he had spotted earlier, and sat down on a bench to eat and read. The old-fashioned language of the translation took some getting used to, but after a few pages he hardly noticed it.
It was the most pleasant time he'd had in weeks, just sitting in a park on sunny day, comparing his own recently-acquired knowledge of fencing against the experience of a long-dead Florentine nobleman. Even the sandwiches were decent. Mac would love this, he thought, and was immediately annoyed with himself for thinking it. He had promised himself when he left London that he wouldn't harp on MacLeod. He had spent several days in that city boring himself silly in museums until one day, in the Tate Gallery, he finally asked himself why he was spending his time and money staring at art he had no real interest in. Once he had posed the question, the answer was easy -- because it was what MacLeod would've made him do if he was there. The realization that he was still subconsciously seeking Duncan's approval pissed him off enough to make him leave London the next morning. Since then he had drifted steadily north, stopping in whatever town caught his fancy, hiking, taking pictures, never thinking of MacLeod at all. Until now.
Richie shoved the book back in his pocket, tossed the remains of his sandwich to the pigeons, and turned to leave the park when he felt the buzz again.
He had his sword this time, so it wasn't quite so unnerving. Richie forced himself to relax as he looked around, but before he could spot the other Immortal, the presence faded again. But this time he thought he caught the direction it had come from, and there was a church in that direction just a block away. Reasoning that the other guy might be wanting to meet on holy ground, Richie headed for it.
A brass plaque by the door informed Richie that he was entering the Church of St. Nicholas, completed in 1473. The main entrance led into a small foyer containing some brochures, a bulletin board, and a box marked "Restoration Fund." The door leading into the inerior of the church was propped open. Richie stepped through and stopped, waiting for his vision to adjust to the dim light. When it did, he was stunned. All thoughts of the other Immortal were forgotten as his eyes took in the interior of the church.
"Wow..." he whispered. It didn't really do justice to his feelings, but his vocabulary seemed to have deserted him. Richie Ryan was no great connoseuir of stained glass, but he had been to Chartres, and to Norte Dame in Paris, and dutifully looked at the windows while Tessa explained what made them great. These were better. There were twelve windows in all, six on each side, and the effect of so much color in a relatively small space was a little overwhelming. No, a lot overwhelming. Richie felt as if he was drowning in a sea of crimson, gold and indigo.
"Nice, aren't they?" A voice behind him asked. Richie whirled around, startled, to face the way he came in. Only now did he notice that the front wall of the church was covered with scaffolding. William Dorset sat on a platform about half-way up, legs dangling over the edge, one hand waving a greeting. "Hello again, Richie."
Richie waved back, still a little stnned. "William! What are you doing up there?"
"Working. Actually, I've just finished. Hang on a minute, I'll be right down." He stood up, and headed for the steel rung ladder attached to the front of the scaffolding.
"Working," Richie repeated. Now that he looked closely, he could see more flashes of stained glass behind the scaffolding. "Wait a minute. Are you telling me you made... this?" He gestured at the windows on either side of him.
"God, no." William laughed. "These are the originals, made in the fifteenth century. I'm here to do some restoration." He reached the ladder and began to climb down. "This window was hit by lightning in a freak thunderstorm last year. Destroyed almost every panel. It was quite a blow for Lynstock -- this church is their biggest tourist attraction."
"I can see why." Richie gazed from side to side. "It's amazing."
"I'm heading back to my workshop," William told him. "If you like, I'll give you a tour."
Richie grinned. "I like."
The workshop was located in a cottage just outside the churchyard. It was very cluttered and very hot. There was a large earthenware crucible in the back, along with a metal oven and what looked like an electric kiln. A table by the window was piled high with lead scrap, while another table held grooved lead rods neatly sorted by size. There were wire cutters, and soldering irons, and other equipment Richie didn't recognize. Shelves lining two walls held sheets of colored glass.
A young man in jeans and a striped T-shirt was busy sweeping the room when William and Richie came in. He appeared to be in his mid-twenties, with shaggy blond hair and a handsome, square-jawed face that bore a noticeable resemblance to William's.
"Richie, this is my nephew Kevin Webster. Kevin, this is Richie Ryan, who was so helpful to me yesterday. He liked the windows at St. Nicholas, so I brought him in to see the workshop."
Kevin paused in his sweeping to shake Richie's hand. "It's a good thing you were there to help him. He'd have tried to do it all himself and put his back out."
"My back's just fine, thank you. I'm in better shape than you are." William laughed and took Richie's arm. "Come on, you should meet Maggie, too."
They went into the next room, which was much larger, as well as cooler and cleaner, and lit by fluorescent lights. There were two drafting tables, a layout table, endless cupboards and shelves holding books and rolls of paper. One entire wall was taken up by a painting of a rosette stained-glass window done on several huge sheets of heavy paper pinned to the wall. A very pretty and very pregnant young woman stood on a step-up platform, working on the painting. William introduced her as Kevin's wife Maggie.
"Maggie and Kevin are learning the trade from me," he explained. "Though we're keeping Maggie away from the kilns due to her... condition."
"It's called pregnancy, William." Maggie scowled at him, but the effect was somewhat spoiled by the spot of green paint at the end of her nose, and by the fact that her face was obviously better suited for smiling. "You can say it, really." She turned to Richie. "The last eight months, he's been acting like I'm made of stained glass. I keep telling him I don't need it--"
"Ha. Who threw up all over the kiln last month?"
"That wasn't the pregnancy. That was the brown sludge you like to pass off as lamb stew."
"Blasphemy. I make brilliant lamb stew!"
Maggie laughed and went back to her painting. William turned his attention back to Richie.
"Well, now that you've met the staff, let me give you that tour I promised."
Richie spent the rest of the day learning more than he'd ever planned to know about silicon and potash, about waxing, glazing, and cementing, and about the history of glass-making. William, Maggie and Kevin were all proud of their work, and happy to talk about it in great detail. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and it was well after dark when Richie finally left the workshop. He made it all the way back to the guesthouse before he remembered that there was another Immortal in town, still unseen.
He had been in Lynstock for almost three weeks now, working with William and the Websters. He wasn't quite sure how it started. One minute he was just hanging out in the workshop again, chatting with Kevin about motorcycles, and the next minute he was cementing a panel that Maggie had just finished glazing. Since then, he came in every day, helping out with any task that could be trusted to a beginner. William wanted to pay him, but he refused. He still had most of his money from Mac, and it was obvious that the restoration project was on a tight budget.
In lieu of payment, he had dinner with William and the Websters at least once a week. He got to sample William's lamb stew, which was -- surprise -- bland and overcooked. He praised it anyway, and got another helping as punishment for his good manners.
"You're too thin," William told him. "You should eat more."
"Right." Richie rolled his eyes. "Eat more. Don't go so fast. Wear a sweater. Eat your vegetables. Thanks for worrying, Mom."
Kevin and Maggie laughed. William, who had said all those things, on a regular basis, to all three of them, huffed. Since then, they could always cut short his lectures by calling him "mom."
He'd been afraid that Kevin and Maggie would resent his presence, but they were just glad to have another pair of hands around. And William was thrilled to have another person to lecture. Richie had already filled one notebook with his notes, and started another one. He now knew that copper oxide makes ruby red glass, while ferrous oxide and lead produced yellow. He knew the difference between English muff, Norman slab, and spun rondel glass. He seemed to have a knack for the work. He was having the time of his life.
Except that every day, at least once, the unknown Immortal would come within range again. Richie assumed it was always the same person -- it seemed hard to believe in a gang of invisible Immortals running around Lynstock. He spent some time in the church each day, hoping that the other would approach him, but to no avail. Now he was feeling the buzz again, and he was too damn busy to go chasing after the bastard. He paused, wondering what to do, and it disappeared.
"What's wrong?" Maggie asked. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
Richie shrugged. "Nothing. I thought I saw someone out the window, but I was wrong."
"It's your American big-city paranoia," Maggie joked. "Seeing burglars and muggers everywhere. We don't get much of that around here." She paused. "Of course there was that guy that got his head cut off last year..."
"What?" Richie nearly dropped the soldering iron. "What did you say?"
"Hey, I didn't mean to scare you. It was a long time ago. They found him right outside the church gate, actually. The papers hushed it up -- didn't want to scare away the tourist trade. But they never caught whoever did it."
"Wonderful." Richie's mouth felt suddenly dry. "Tell me something. Did this happen the same night that the window got hit by lightning, by any chance?"
"Why, yes." Maggie looked startled. "How did you know?"
"Wild guess." Richie returned to his work, but he found it hard to concentrate. An Immortal died here a year ago. Died so close to holy ground that his Quickening blew out a church window. That meant he was either ambushed as he was coming out the church gate, or struck down from behind as he tried to reach it. Neither possibility was very pleasant.
Kevin came in from the firing room, flushed and sweaty from the heat. He kissed Maggie on the cheek, then bent down and planted another kiss on her oversize belly.
"Hi, kiddo," he murmured.
Maggie gave a little gasp, and pressed one hand against her stomach.
"Every time you do that, he kicks."
"He's just saying hi to Daddy." Kevin grinned. "Uncle William's let me off the leash for the day. How about dinner?"
"Sure." Maggie turned to Richie. "How about you? Want to join us?"
"Nah, you two lovebirds go on. I want to finish up here."
Kevin and Maggie left, laughing and making goo-goo eyes at each other. Richie went back to his work. He'd just finished the soldering and sat down to clean the iron when he felt the buzz again.
This is too much. He dropped the iron and sprinted out of the room, determined to catch whoever it was this time.
He nearly ran over William on his way out the door. He could hear the glass-maker's voice shouting his name as he ran, but there was no time to stop and explain. He made it outside just in time to see a blue-clad figure sprinting away across the street. Richie followed. The possibility that he was being lured into some sort of trap briefly occured to him, but he was too pissed off to care. He ran down the main street, elbowing confused pedestrians out of his way, keeping his eyes on the flash of blue ahead of him. He followed it around one corner, then another. Despite the other Immortal's head start, he was getting closer.
The next turn brought them into a narrow alley that ran behind a row of antique shops. It was littered with junk from the shops, and deserted except for a couple of offended cats who scurried out of their way. Richie was just a few feet behind his quarry now, and he launched himself into a flying tackle that caught the other man just above the knees, and brought both of them crashing down into a pile of old crates.
"Don't hurt me!" The other Immortal wailed. He was making no effort to fight, only to get away. "Don't hurt me, don't hurt me, please don't hurt me..." His voice kept climbing in pitch and volume until Richie grabbed him by the collar and shook him roughly a few times.
"Shut up, will you? I won't hurt you if you just shut up!"
Thankfully, the man shut up, though he kept on whimpering a little under his breath. Richie let go his collar and stepped back, getting a good look at his opponent for the first time. He's a geek! Appearances could be misleading, of course. For all Richie knew, the "geek" might have been centuries old, with hundreds of heads to his credit. But that didn't change the fact that he was skinny and rat-faced, with stringy blond hair and thick horn-rimmed glasses. Or the fact that he was wearing corduroys and a neon blue nylon anorak. He backed away as soon as Richie released him, and drew his sword. Richie immediately pulled his own rapier, and the two Immortals faced each other across the alley. Seconds passed. Neither one made a move to attack. Eventually, Richie decided introductions were in order.
"Richie Ryan," he announced, wishing for the millionth time that he had a cool handle like Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod.
"Cecil Worthington," the other man squeaked. His voice shook badly, as did his sword hand. He still wasn't attacking. Richie sighed.
"Look, I don't mean to be rude, but shit or get off the pot, okay? I don't particularly want to fight you, but--"
"No. But I will if you attack me."
"I won't! I don't want to fight anyone! I just want to be left alone!"
"Then why the hell are you buzzing me day in and day out? Ever occur to you I might want to be left alone, too?"
"I'm sorry." Cecil swallowed noisily. "I just wanted to find out what you were up to, if you were going to go after my head... You have to understand, I've only been Immortal for two years, I hardly know anything..."
Richie, less than six months past his own first death, fought to keep a straight face. Is this guy for real? He certainly wouldn't be the first Immortal to pretend ignorance in order to trick an opponent -- the image of Felicia Martin sprang instantly to mind. But that look of terror on his face was certainly convincing... Richie took a risk and lowered his sword.
"I'll make you a deal. You don't bother me and I don't bother you, okay?"
"I..." Cecil blinked at him, a bemused look on his face. "Is that allowed?"
"Allowed? By whom, the Immortal Disciplinary Committee?"
"How should I know? I told you, I've only been in this for --"
"Two years, I heard you. Just what have you been doing these two years? Did you have a teacher?"
Fear left Cecil's expression for the first time, to be replaced by pain. "Mallory. He's dead now." The last two words came out in a sob. "Bastard struck him down from behind..."
"I'm sorry," Richie sighed. "Look, do we have a deal, or not?"
Cecil hesitated a moment, then put away his sword. "I suppose we do."
"Good. I'm gonna head back to St. Nicholas now. I suggest you go the other way."
"Right. I'm going now. I... Uh... So long." Cecil backed away, never taking his eyes off Richie until he reached the end of the alley and disappeared around the bend. Richie put away his rapier, and headed back the way he had come in.
William Dorset was waiting for him just around the corner.
"William!" For a moment, Richie was too astounded to speak. "What are you doing here?"
The narrow-eyed, suspicious look on William's face suggested that he had overheard at least part of the conversation in the alley. "You ran out so suddenly... you seemed upset... I followed you."
"Followed me?" Now it was Richie's turn to look suspicious. "You're not a Watcher, are you?" Before William could reply, Richie grabbed the older man's arm and pushed the sleeve back to look at the wrist. Nothing. No tattoo.
"What the hell is going on?" William demanded, pulling his arm free with a jerk. "I saw the two of you, you had swords, you were talking about killing each other--"
Richie sighed, and let go of William's arm. There was no help for it. He would have to explain.
"It's a long story. How about we discuss it over a couple of beers?"
"That's quite a story," was the only comment he offered when Richie finished.
"Do you believe it?"
William took a long sip of his beer while he considered the question. "I believe that you believe it. And the git in the alley seemed to believe it, too. Of course you could be a couple of nutcases sharing a common delusion, but I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt."
Richie felt both relieved and anxious. Relieved becuase he wouldn't have to provide a demonstration of immortality to convince William of his sanity. Anxious, becuase he no longer knew where he stood. "So what are you going to do about it?"
"I don't know," William admitted. "I can see why you hid this from me, but it makes it hard to trust you now. And I have Maggie and Kevin and the baby to consider. I can't put them in danger."
"Danger? Do you really think I'd hurt them? Do you really think I'd hurt anybody?"
"You killed a man, back in the states. You told me so yourself."
"I know that!" Richie burst out, and winced at the volume of his own voice. He was on his fourth beer, and not nearly as clear-headed as he needed to be for this conversation. He took a deep breath, pushed his glass away, forced himself to speak softly. "I wish I hadn't done it. I wish I'd let him go. I wish--" He stopped.
William finished the thought for him. "You wish your friend hadn't kicked you out."
"Yeah." Richie stared at the table, as if expecting to find the solution to all his problems in the pattern of beer rings on the dark wood. "But that's pointless. If I hadn't killed Mako, he would've found some other excuse."
"What makes you think he was looking for an excuse?"
"Because he was," Richie muttered. "Because of Tessa." The table top was providing no useful answers, so he took another swallow of his beer. That didn't make him feel any wiser either. "I was there when she got kidnapped, and I was there when she was killed, and I did nothing to stop it either time."
"Well," William said cautiously, "I wasn't there, of course, but it doesn't sound like there's anything you could've done."
"Mac would've done something. Mac always does something. Me, I just stood there like an idiot while that punk shot both of us. And then... I got up and she didn't it. And every time he looked at me, he remembered that." Richie grabbed his glass and drained it in two long gulps. He'd said more than he intended, but he felt better now for having said it.
William was looking at him thoughtfully. "Don't you think you're reading an awful lot into a single conversation?"
"It wasn't just one conversation. It was a lot of things... Oh, he was always real nice about it, never said it was my fault... But I could see it in his face sometimes, when he thought I wasn't looking. It's probably just as well I left."
William looked as if he was going to say more on the subject, then changed his mind. "So what are you going to do now?"
The million-dollar question. He wanted to stay. Wanted to see Maggie's painting turn into a real window, with his help. But even if Cecil was no longer a threat -- and Richie was not about to bet on it -- there would be others, sooner or later. He already knew what happened when mortals got in the middle of Immortal troubles. "I'll leave tomorrow."
William made a half-hearted attempt to talk him out of it, but they both knew it was the right decision. And so the evening turned into an impromptu two-man farewell party. It was nearly two in the morning when Richie stumbled up to his room, having consumed enough beer to stock a respectable frat party.
He woke up close to noon, feeling like a small, furry animal had died in his mouth and its friends were holding an Irish wake inside his head. Three aspirin and a hot shower restored him to coherence, if not to well-being. He had his things all packed before he remembered that he had left his bike parked outside the workshop the day before. Well, he wanted to say good-bye to Kevin and Maggie, anyway. Richie shouldered his bag and began the half-hour walk to St. Nicholas.
The walk cleared most of the cobwebs from his head, but he didn't snap fully awake until he reached the entrance to the workshop, and felt the Immortal on the other side of the door.
"Cecil?" He called out. No answer. Richie drew his sword. His palms were sweating, and his heart beat rapidly, but the fear was more for the mortals inside than for himself. His hand was perfectly steady as he opened the door.
Cecil stood in the middle of the workshop, with Maggie in front of him. His left arm was wrapped around her throat, and his sword was pressed up against her abdomen. Richie felt ill. Maggie looked both terrified and furious, but she was holding very still. Richie knew she wouldn't do anything to risk the baby. The door to the adjoining room was shut, and he could hear Kevin and William throwing themselves against it on the other side.
"Stop that!" Cecil yelled out to them. "Or I kill her right now!" There was some muffled swearing from the other side, but the battering stopped.
"You bastard," Richie breathed. "Let her go, I'll fight you."
"Oh, no, you won't." Cecil's eyes were wild. "Put down your sword and kick it away from you."
Shit. There was nothing he could do except obey. Richie sent his sword sliding across the floor. It came to rest just out of reach under a table piled with lead scrap.
"Kneel down," Cecil told him.
Richie knelt, fighting to control his anger. Dying in a fair fight was one thing. Dying on his knees at the hands of a sniveling geek who could barely hold a sword was... downright embarrassing is what it was, and he wasn't about to stand for it.
Cecil advanced, pushing Maggie in front of him. Richie watched them, waiting for his chance. It was pretty much impossible to behead a man with a one-handed swing. Sooner or later, Cecil was going to have to let go of Maggie and get a proper grip on his sword. Richie was ready to move as soon as it happened.
"Keep your head down!" Cecil ordered. Richie stared at the floor.
"You don't have to do this. We had a deal. I'm no threat to you."
"Shut up!" Cecil and Maggie were very close now, close enough that Richie could see their feet from the corner of his eye. As he watched, Cecil shifted to a wider stance. "There can be only one!" He announced, and shoved Maggie away from him. Richie waited less than a second to make sure she was out of harm's way before he moved.
He almost waited too long. The blow that would've taken his head sliced deep into his right shoulder instead, nearly severing his arm as he threw himself sideways, away from Cecil and toward his sword.
Richie screamed. Red spots swam before his eyes, red blotches of blood spattered the floor around him. He forced himself to move through the pain, his right arm hanging useless at his side, his left hand reaching across the floor for his rapier. Cecil attacked again. Richie scrambled away, taking a shallow cut across the ribs before his hand finally found the rapier. He parried Cecil's next blow and rose shakily to his feet, gasping for air.
Cecil backed up, eyes wide. He obviously hadn't counted on having to face an armed opponent. Richie immediately pressed his attack, giving mental thanks for all those times MacLeod made him practice left-handed. His right arm was healing rapidly, but it would still be a few minutes before he could use it.
Cecil kept retreating. He seemed to know the basics of swordplay, but his movements were clumsy, governed by panic rather than skill. Within three minutes he was backed up against a wall, with the point of Richie's sword pressed against his solar plexus.
"Hope you're satisfied," Richie hissed, and ran him through.
Cecil stirred, and opened his eyes with a moan. Richie watched his expression change from confustion to fear to cautious hopefulness.
"You didn't kill me. Why?"
"Well, it's not because you didn't deserve it," Richie growled. "You know, I've seen some pretty psycho Immortals do some pretty low things in my life, but threatening an unborn baby with a sword has got to be the lowest. We're talking pondscum level here."
"I had to do it!" Cecil whined. "I was afraid."
"I'll buy you being afraid. But you did not have to do it. All you had to do was leave me alone. Tell me something. Did you kill your teacher?"
In the long silence that followed, Richie read the answer he expected to receive. His disgust must've shown on his face, because Cecil hunched his shoulders and pressed himself against the wall at his back as if he was trying to disappear into the stone.
"I didn't know what to do," he whispered. "He was teaching me to fight, but I was no good at it, and I wasn't getting any better, and I thought if I had his Quickening I would know how to fight like he did..."
"It doesn't work like that," Richie sighed. "I took my first Quickening two months ago, and all I got out of it was a sudden fondness for dark beer."
"That's what he said," Cecil sobbed. "But I didn't believe him... Why didn't you kill me?"
"Three reasons." Richie ticked them off on his fingers. "One, I don't particularly like killing people. Two, William asked me not to. And three, I was not about to set off a Quickening in a stained-glass shop. The question is, what am I going to do with you now?"
The fear was back in Cecil's face. "What?"
"We have a few options. William wants me to hand you over to the cops, but I think that would be a real bad idea. Kevin and Maggie want me to drag you off Holy Ground and cut your head off, which would be no less than you deserve, but it's not really my style. I could take you someplace quiet, untie you, and make you fight me, which is probably the proper Immortal thing to do... but that brings us right back to the fact that I don't like killing people. Which brings us to plan D."
"I untie you, and you get your sorry ass out of here and never bother me again."
Cecil looked stunned, as well he should've. "You'd trust me to do that?"
"I wouldn't trust you any further than I can throw you left-handed. But let's get real here -- you cheated, and I still beat you. You try again, chances are I'll beat you again. You willing to risk it?"
Cecil shook his head.
"Good. Because I promise you this," Richie leaned forward until he and Cecil were almost nose to nose, and tried to put that menacing Duncan MacLeod growl into his voice, "if you touch me or any of my friends ever again, I'm gonna take your head off with a pocket knife, got it?"
Cecil gulped. "Got it."
"Good. What you do once you leave is up to you, but let me suggest one thing -- if you find another teacher... don't kill him this time."
Cecil nodded, sniffed, wiped his nose against the shoulder of his jacket. He looked thoroughly pathetic, and Richie didn't envy any noble-minded Immortal who might actually take him on. For one evil moment, he toyed with the idea of referring the guy to MacLeod, just to show the Highlander that there were worse fates in life than having Richie Ryan for a student, but it passed quickly. He knelt down and used his sword to cut the ropes that bound Cecil's wrists and ankles.
"Come on. Let's get you out of here before Maggie gets her hands on you."
"So what are you going to do now?" he asked.
Richie shrugged. "Travel some more, I guess. I hear Spain is pretty nice this time of year."
"It is," Willaim agreed. He sounded remote, and a little distracted. Richie wondered if he was still angry at him.
"I'm really sorry--" he began.
"Richie." William raised his hands. "Stop apologizing. It was bad enough watching you practically grovel before Maggie..."
"She could've been killed. She could've lost the baby."
"It wasn't your fault. And you were willing to die to save her. I'm not angry with you, and Maggie and Kevin won't be, either, once they've had time to think."
Richie wasn't sure he believed that, but he nodded anyway. "That's good. I wouldn't want to go away and leave people angry at me."
William looked distracted again. "Richie. Make an old man happy. Call your friend Duncan and talk to him."
Richie stared at the ground in front of his feet. "I don't think he wants to hear from me."
"You won't know till you try. But if he never said he blames you, maybe you should consider the possibility that he actually doesn't. And what's the worst he could do -- hang up the phone?"
"I'll think about it." Richie got on the bike.
William looked as if he wanted to insist some more, but all he did was pat Richie on the shoulder. "Good luck. Don't go too fast. Wear a sweater. Eat your vegetables."
"Yes, Mom." Richie waved good-bye, and started the bike.
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